Water and the Future of Energy


The link between energy generation and water use has emerged as a critically important focal point for policy makers, businesses and municipalities. The amount of fresh water withdrawn in the U.S. for electricity production is more than double the amount of water used for residential, commercial and industrial facilities combined. A variety of Federal and state policies are promoting increased use of low carbon energy resources. However, a number of increasingly important energy sources, including solar thermal, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production, geothermal, biofuels, nuclear power and enhanced oil recovery, use significantly greater volumes of water per unit of energy produced than conventional fossil fuels.

On the other hand, water supply and water treatment are major users of energy. Nationally, water operations consume approximately 3% to 5% of all energy used in the U.S., and as much as 7% in states such as California that face particularly acute water supply issues. In 2008, 400 out of 2,106 watersheds in the U.S. reportedly were experiencing water-supply stress.

In March 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported on its review of the available data regarding the energy used in the urban water lifecycle and the technologies available to reduce those energy demands. The GAO reported that a number of technologies and systems have been developed that can substantially increase the energy efficiency of drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. However, data is lacking on the cost-effectiveness of these technologies, and there are a variety of barriers to widespread adoption.

The developments and trends at the nexus of water and energy are presenting important challenges and opportunities. For example:

Just as information technology, healthcare, and clean energy have gone through recent transformative stages, we are at the beginning of a global transformation in water strategies and technologies. Areas of particular focus include:

The following links will provide a reference for information and recommendations regarding the issues posed by the water-energy nexus. Please contact one of the ZAG-S&W attorneys indicated below to discuss your specific needs and questions.

PowerPoint Slides

Supporting Material


For further information, please contact any of the following from our Water Practice: